News / Africa

Ebola Also Devastates Wild Ape Population

FILE - Mrithi, a 20-year-old male western lowland gorilla.
FILE - Mrithi, a 20-year-old male western lowland gorilla.

One day in 1996, boys from a village in northern Gabon brought home a chimpanzee they found dead in the forest. The villagers butchered it for food.

That act set off an Ebola outbreak that killed 21 people, according to the World Health Organization.

Years later, on a reporting trip in Gabon, author David Quammen met two men from the village who were there during the outbreak.

At the time Ebola was ravaging their village and their families, they noticed something strange. In the forest nearby, 13 gorillas lay dead.

Thirteen dead gorillas, 21 dead humans. Plus the chimpanzee the boys found in the forest.

All victims of Ebola.

'Wave of death'

For the western lowland gorilla, the toll of Ebola has been devastating.

“There has been an epidemic wave of death passing through gorilla populations across central Africa,” Quammen said, “a wave of Ebola killing them as well as occasionally killing humans.”

Ecologist Peter Walsh with the University of Cambridge watched 90 to 95 percent of the gorillas he was studying in a Congolese sanctuary disappear in two Ebola outbreaks in the early 2000s.

He co-authored a scientific assessment that put the western lowland gorilla on the critically endangered list in 2007.

“The combination of bushmeat hunting and disease was really slamming western gorillas,” he said.

Walsh and his colleagues estimated that Ebola would wipe out 45 percent of the entire population in just one generation.

Connectedness

For Quammen, the villagers’ story of the 13 dead gorillas stuck with him. It demonstrated “the connectedness between other species and humans when it comes to these new, emerging viruses,” he said.

Quammen went on to author Spillover: Animal Infections and the Next Human Pandemic. In the book, he describes the growing pace at which diseases are spilling over from animals to people.

“It’s not a new thing. It’s been around for a long time,” Quammen said. Bubonic plague jumped from rodents to humans through infected fleas and killed as much as 60 percent of Europe in the 14th century.

And Ebola is not the first species to spill over from apes.

The most lethal species of malaria, Plasmodium falciparum, came from gorillas, according to research Walsh co-authored.

Into the woods

But the pace of spillover seems to be increasing, Quammen said.

“Something seems to be different because we’ve seen a lot of these new diseases, especially viral diseases, emerging over the last five or six decades. And that, of course, raises the question of, why?”

One answer, Quammen said, is the growing human population that is encroaching deeper and deeper into new habitats.

“There are now 7 billion of us on the planet. We’re going into these diverse ecosystems. We’re cutting down trees, we’re building mines and roads.”

And as humans encounter the animals living in these ecosystems, he added, “We’re giving the viruses those animals carry the opportunity to jump to a new host.”

William Karesh, an infectious disease expert at EcoHealth Alliance, said, “It’s becoming very clear that there’s a strong correlation between environmental change of any type and disease emergence.

“Whether it’s deforestation or agricultural growth or reforestation, it’s that change that allows that disease to emerge because it’s disrupting the natural balance," Karesh said.

Spilling back

Spillover goes in the other direction, too.

Ecotourism has been great for protecting wild-ape habitat, ecologist Walsh said. But “in the places where we’re succeeding the most in protecting them from hunting and habitat loss," he noted, "we’re killing them with our viruses.”

Human respiratory viruses are the No. 1 killer of chimpanzees and gorillas that are accustomed to the presence of humans. In chimpanzees, half of the deaths are caused by human respiratory viruses.

Walsh advocates vaccinating apes that come in contact with tourists against human diseases such as measles.

He and his colleagues call for better enforcement of the laws against hunting the critically endangered western lowland gorilla, and better protection of their dwindling habitat.

You May Like

ASEAN Ministers Set to Push for South China Sea Agreements

According to documents obtained by VOA Khmer, ministers will stand up for 'freedom of navigation, unimpeded lawful maritime commerce, trade and over flight' More

Puerto Rico Defaults on $58M Debt Payment

Payment was due Saturday, default is first in country's 117 years as a United States possession More

Turkish Public Fears Jihadists More Than Kurds

Turkey facing twin threats of terrorism by Islamic State and PKK Kurdish separatists, says President Erdogan’s ruling AK Party More

This forum has been closed.
Comment Sorting
Comments
     
by: Pauline E. from: USA
August 22, 2014 10:25 AM
It makes perfect sense. I'm sure that in the future we will be hearing about similar interactions between alligators and humans in southern USA.

by: Stan from: USA
August 14, 2014 1:23 PM
My speculation is that these deadly viruses (AIDS, Ebola, etc) metamorphose from more benign germs due to scientists' injecting apes in the wild with experimental drugs. That would be why the diseases are only showing up in our generation, as otherwise those ape species would not have survived till the current generation. Unless such experiments stop, there could be a virus within this century with the capability of wiping out the human species.
In Response

by: Joseph from: Falco
August 18, 2014 7:39 PM
Ridiculous, paranoid assertion

by: psalmuel adekunle from: Nigeria
August 13, 2014 11:35 AM
am a blogger and a journalist. just want to inform you about the threat at hand in Nigeria with Ebola loooming in West Africa. and the Doctors on strike its all gibberish. you can write a story on that i may suplly you pictures if you need
In Response

by: Anonymous
August 14, 2014 11:27 AM
Can you elaborate on ur above post please

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Iraqi Yazidis Fear Death of Their Communityi
X
Sharon Behn
August 03, 2015 2:23 PM
A year ago on August 3, Islamic State militants stormed the homelands of Iraq’s Yazidi minority, killing hundreds of men and enslaving thousands of women. The scenes of desperate Yazidi families crowding on the top of Sinjar mountain without food or water spurred Kurdish fighters into action, an emergency airlift and the start of the U.S. airstrike campaign against the Islamic State Sunni extremists. VOA's Sharon Benh reports from northern Iraq.
Video

Video Iraqi Yazidis Fear Death of Their Community

A year ago on August 3, Islamic State militants stormed the homelands of Iraq’s Yazidi minority, killing hundreds of men and enslaving thousands of women. The scenes of desperate Yazidi families crowding on the top of Sinjar mountain without food or water spurred Kurdish fighters into action, an emergency airlift and the start of the U.S. airstrike campaign against the Islamic State Sunni extremists. VOA's Sharon Benh reports from northern Iraq.
Video

Video Bangkok Warned It Soon Could Be Submerged

Italy's Venice and America's New Orleans are not the only cities gradually submerging. The nearly ten million residents of the Bangkok urban area now must confront warnings the city could become uninhabitable in a few decades. VOA Correspondent Steve Herman reports from the Thai capital.
Video

Video Inclusive Gym Gets People With Disabilities in Fitness Spirit

Individuals with special needs are 58 percent more likely to be obese than the general population. According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control, they also have an increased likelihood of anxiety, depression and social isolation. But a sports club outside Washington wants to make a difference in these people's lives. With Carol Pearson narrating, VOA's June Soh reports.
Video

Video Astronauts Train Underwater for Deep Space Missions

Manned deep space missions are still a long way off, but space agencies are already testing procedures, equipment and human stamina for operations in extreme environment conditions. Small groups of astronauts take turns in spending days in an underwater lab, off Florida’s southern coast, simulating future missions to some remote world. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Special Olympics Show Competitors' Skill, Determination

Special Olympics competitions will wrap up Saturday in Los Angeles, and the closing ceremony for athletes with intellectual disabilities will be held Sunday night. In a week of competition, athletes have shown what they can do through skill and determination. VOA's Mike O'Sullivan reports.
Video

Video Civil Rights Leaders Struggled to Achieve Voting Rights Act

Fifty years ago, lawmakers approved, and U.S. President Lyndon Johnson signed, the Voting Rights Act of 1965. The measure outlawed racial discrimination in voting, giving millions of blacks in many parts of the southern United States federal enforcement of the right to vote. Correspondent Chris Simkins introduces us to some civil rights leaders who were on the front lines in the struggle for voting rights.
Video

Video Shooter’s Grill: Serving Food with a Touch of the Second Amendment

Shooter's Grill, a restaurant in Rifle, Colorado, attracts visitors from all over the world as well as local patrons. The reason? Waitresses openly carry loaded firearms as they serve food, and customers are welcome to carry them, too. VOA's Enming Liu and Lin Yang paid a visit to Shooter's Grill, and heard different opinions about this unique establishment.
Video

Video Despite Controversy, Business Owner Continues Sale of Confederate Flags

At Cooter’s, a store in rural Sperryville, Virginia, about 120 kilometers west of Washington, D.C., Confederate flags are flying off the shelves. The red, white and blue battle flag, with 13 white stars representing the Confederate states, was carried by southern forces during the U.S. Civil War in the 1860s. The South had seceded from the Union over several key issues of disagreement, including slavery. VOA’s Deborah Block has the story.
Video

Video Booming London Property a ‘Haven for Dirty Money’

Billions of dollars of so-called ‘dirty money’ from the proceeds of crime - especially from Russia - are being laundered through the London property market, according to anti-corruption activists. As Henry Ridgwell reports from the British capital, the government has pledged to crack down on the practice.
Video

Video Hometown of Boy Scouts of America Founder Reacts to Gay Leader Decision

Ottawa, Illinois, is the hometown of W.D. Boyce, who founded the Boy Scouts of America in 1910. In Ottawa, where Scouting remains an important part of the legacy of the community, the end of the organization's ban on openly gay adult leaders was seen as inevitable. VOA's Kane Farabaugh reports.

VOA Blogs